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Album review: The Strokes lack rock ‘n’ roll sound, push for modern appeal in ‘Comedown Machine’

The Strokes’ band members were hipsters before the word “hipster” even existed. They were cool before cool knew what it was. The band saved rock ‘n’ roll before rock ‘n’ roll even needed saving.

A decade later, and The Strokes, which formed in 1998, isn’t the same as when it was spearheading the movement for “true” rock ‘n’ roll.

The sound is casual. The album is short. It is more superficial, but undeniably more catchy than its predecessors. For “Comedown Machine,” released Tuesday, The Strokes fell into a more synthesized version of indie rock. Recorded in the famous Electric Lady Studios in New York City, The Strokes’ fifth studio album doesn’t align with the reputation it has gained. 

The album opens with “Tap Out,” which begins with a short guitar solo that was either meant as a joke, or a funny, messed-up opener. “Tap Out” is similar in style to rock band Of Montreal with its odd, off-balance sound. It doesn’t necessarily sound like rock music, but more like strange synthed-out indie music. 

“All The Time” takes out the synthesized backbeat and reverts to old-school Strokes style. The voice sounds lo-fi, low quality, pushing the track into an almost grunge-esque tone. 

The tracks switch back and forth between what you would expect of original an Strokes sound to its new, modern, synthesized style. “One Way Trigger” forces in a catchy backbeat, and the super high-register vocals that were introduced in “Tap Out” reappear. Nicely nestled into the end of the song is a tapped-out beat.

Casablancas’ vocals jump from high-register to what his singing sounds like in earlier albums. In the back of “Welcome to Japan,” whistles are subtly used throughout the song, creating a more pop-driven track. 

“50/50” is the best of the album. It actually sounds like the band is playing real instruments, rather than on the other synthesized tracks, and it pushes you back to when The Strokes was making music that was saving rock ‘n’ roll. 

What saves the album is the catchiness of the songs. While yes, the album lacks the true rock ‘n’ roll vibe that brought The Strokes to fame, it pushes for a more modern appeal. At times the songs are a little odd, a little strange, and take on the quality of other indie artists. “Happy Ending” is catchy with a subtle guitar ripping through the back of the track. 

“Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is the most unique track of the album. It sounds like it has been analog-recorded and the style pushes lo-fi to its limits. 

“Comedown Machine” shows The Strokes shoving past the rock ‘n’ roll boundaries it created, and cutting away at the image it racked up through its 2001 “Is This It” debut, but it does so sporadically. The tracks don’t match up, and each has a different style. Had the band stuck to high-register vocals, or pushing lo-fi, it would have created a more cohesive album. The synthesized beats create catchiness but trade in The Strokes’ previously authentic style. 


Grade: C

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